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Why People Volunteer
The Top Three Reasons People Volunteer

Why do people get involved as a volunteer in an organization? What is the motivation for people to take their time, money and talent to become involved? What does it take for volunteers to get involved and stay involved? The question is WHY?

Motivation is an inside job. People do things for their reasons, not yours, so our role is to create a organization culture that stimulates the inner motivation of each volunteer. What are the external stimuli we can use to arouse that inner motivation?

Most people respond to three levels of motivation.

Basic Level: Self-serving drive
Secondary Level: Relational drive
Highest Level: Belief drive

The basic level of recruiting is self-serving.

People often join an organization because it meets their needs. That need may be for business, for friendship, for belonging or many other self-serving needs. Most organizations offer an associate membership for business people who offer services for members. I have served on committees of professional organizations because I am able to meet with people who could use my services. Networking is an incredible opportunity and benefit of volunteering. When I volunteer, I get new business.

The wise recruiter looks for these kinds of volunteers because it is a win/win. The organization benefits from getting my expertise and high-energy enthusiasm (after all if I am looking for clients, I’m not going to do a poor job). I benefit because I meet people who know people who are looking for speakers, trainers and consultants.

Political volunteers often are motivated by this basic level. They get involved with a campaign because they see the personal benefit to them—usually something financial like taxes. If I help elect this candidate, it is going to benefit my business or my taxable income. Again, this is self-serving; however, it is another win/win for everyone involved.

Interns provide another example of this type of volunteer. They want experience that they can use to get a job. Most of them are also looking for a mentor—and someone who can write a strong recommendation letter for them.

When we recruit at the basic level, we stress the personal benefits volunteers will receive when they work in our organization.

The second level is relational.

People also volunteer because of friendship. When a friend personally asks someone to volunteer, it is often hard to say, "No." If the friend is excited about a certain cause, he or she is the best person to do recruiting. Relational marketing is one of the most effective marketing tools. I.I.R. or investing in relationships is one of the strongest stimulators for our inner motivations.

Why do politicians shake hands and kiss babies? Harry Truman was a successful campaigner. He knew how to work a crowd. He knew how to shake hands with people. Harry Truman truly loved people and was so successful at campaigning. Bill Clinton was another great campaigner. During his first campaign for President, he was visited many college campuses. A TV network interviewed a group of college students after one of his town hall meetings on the campus, and they asked these students if they were going to vote for Clinton. Everyone said that they were excited about Clinton and wanted to get involved in his campaign. When the interviewer asked them what it was about Clinton’s policies that they supported, many of the students didn’t have a clue. They all were excited about the person, but they had no idea what he stood for. They had met the person and liked him as an individual.

Many people join an organization and work as volunteers because they were recruited by a friend. The advantage of having a recruiting team is that the synergy of brainstorming increases because we have just increased our sphere of influence. Two people only have so many contacts; however, a recruiting team of ten people can produce hundreds of potential volunteers.

The third level is belief.

The level of belief is the strongest level of commitment. When people volunteer because of their passion for a cause—they actually believe in our cause we have the strongest level of commitment. When people believe in the cause of the organization, even if that cause will cost them a great deal of personal sacrifice and pain, that is when the volunteer is highly motivated. This is true inner motivation that is on the level of Ghandi or Mother Teresa. People join and volunteer because they believe the cause is right. This is the highest level of motivation.

People often join an organization at level one (self serving) or level two (because of a friend), but in time they become true believers and passionate about the cause. This is our goal with each member of our organization.

In our organizations we find recruits at all three levels, and we can use each kind of motivation to enlist volunteers.


Thomas W. McKee

Tom McKee Tom McKee is president and owner of www.volunteerpower.com a leadership development firm specializing in volunteerism. He has over 40 years of experience in volunteer leadership. Tom began his speaking career to one of the most difficult audiences-high school assemblies. Since those days he has addressed over 1 million people spanning three continents-Africa, Europe and the U.S. Over the past 40 years he has trained over 100,000 leaders how to manage the chaos of change in an organization.

The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer Tom and his son Jonathan are authors of the book, The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer (Group Publishing). The New Breed details the new cultural shift in volunteer management and also includes valuable, applicable resources for leaders, including job descriptions, icebreakers, team-builders and community-building activities, equipping leaders to move forward with confidence and empower valuable volunteers.

About The New Breed:
The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer by Jonathan McKee and Thomas W. McKee. Group Publishing. Paperback, 176 pages. ISBN: 978-0764435645. The book can be ordered at www.volunteerpower.com.